Planning for the private cycling tour from Austria to Slovenia began in the summer of 2019, at the end of their first HC Bike Tours trip to northern Spain. The group had such an amazing experience; almost everyone wanted to come back in 2020 to try something different. Seeking great climbs, but wanting to avoid big crowds, they agreed on the idea of a tour from Austria to Slovenia.
Aigars got right to work on the route and had a preliminary itinerary ready in the fall of 2019, but the world had other plans and after COVID restrictions went into effect, the group sadly agreed to delay the trip to 2021. Fast-forward another year and all reluctantly agreed to delay until 2022, with the added incentive of an additional trip to Croatia before the Austria/Slovenia trip! By 2022 the group, a total of 9 riders, was beyond excited to get out, travel, explore, and adventure!
Those doing the Croatia trip arrived in Salzburg later in the evening, two days before the official trip started. Accommodations for the next several days were at the charmingly traditional Gasthof Doktorwirt, a family-owned hotel “in a country setting but only a few minutes to the marvelous town of Salzburg”. Most in the group were keeping the same HC / Sarto rentals they had used in Croatia, but a few riders got to saddle up on brand-new Sarto bikes with all the latest features like electronic shifting, disk brakes, and super-low 1x gearing, perfect for the long mountain climbs planned.
Because there was a solid forecast of rain for Day 1, the early arrivers decided to tackle the Day 1 ride, a day early and in the sunshine! This ride, which took the group into Germany, included both the famous “Rossfeld Panoramic Road”, Germany’s highest panoramic road and a brief, distant view of Hitler’s infamous Eagles Nest building (Kehlsteinhaus) from the summit. The Eagle’s Nest sits atop the Kehlstein, a rocky outcropping above Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden. The road is now closed to the public and it can be visited by bus from Berchtesgaden, about halfway back down the mountain, but the riders opted to have a “Caffe mit Schlag” instead, and enjoyed the rest of the ‘screaming’ descent! Three more joined the group that evening as the clouds gathered. All agreed that Salzburg was a real gem of a city, and wonderfully bike-friendly. Drivers were courteous, road surfaces were excellent and the bike infrastructure was terrific. What a great place for cycling! The riders enjoyed an ‘al fresco dinner that night on the patio at Dr Wirt, where they were treated to an hour-long display of paragliders soaring off the nearby high peak into the sunset.
Pre-tour ride route: distance: 41.5 miles, elevation: 3870 ft
The official trip Day 1 dawned overcast but the group was not daunted. Aigars had planned a shorter ride with a ‘bail-out option’ that still gave the group plenty of climbing and a great opportunity for the later arrivals to fine-tune their bike fit. To the riders’ delight, the plan was to ride up Mt Gaisberg, the very place where the paragliders had launched from the previous evening! They got off to an early start, hoping to beat the rain. But as the riders ascended, the day grew increasingly damp and cold. At the summit, it was extremely windy and cold. Then the rain started, making for a cold, wet descent. So the group opted to shorten the route and head directly to the Gasthaus for hot showers and coffee! That evening they enjoyed another delicious dinner of Austrian specialties (schnitzel! strudel!) at the hotel.
Day 1 Route: distance: 19.2 mi, elevation: 2838 ft
On Day 2, the group rose early to glorious sunshine, prepared to depart from Salzburg on two wheels. They were heading for the Salzkammergut, an unofficial region of Austria with over 75 lakes! The group rode through rolling alpine scenery and along the shores of several lakes, including the gorgeous Hallstatter See (Lake). Though it was getting late in the day, they took the time to do a side trip to tour the small and charming tourist village of Hallstatt right on the waters of Hallstatter See. They soon arrived in Gosau where they enjoyed a quiet evening surrounded by ski lifts and alpine meadows, and rested up for a big Day 3.
Day 2 Route: distance: 70 mi, elevation: 4750 ft
The route for Day 3 included 3 beautiful mountain passes: Dschutt pass, Dientner Sattel and Fitzsattel. The group was on the road early despite some overcast skies, and the sun broke through soon enough. They enjoyed a sunny afternoon of climbing, reaching a high of 4800 ft on Fitzsattel, and were rewarded by a 10-mile-long descent. Another 5 or so miles of rollers brought them to their accommodations in the center of the charming town of Zell am See, right on the beautiful Lake Zell.
Day 3 Route: distance: 61 miles, elevation: 5610 ft
The riders were greeted (awoken?) on Day 4 – a Sunday – by the sounds of bells… Bells, more bells, and carillons! An unusual wake-up call! Unfortunately, the plan for the day, the mighty Grossglockner, was disrupted by the forecast of bad weather. With the summit at 8350 ft, the High Alpine Road is not to be taken lightly, and bad weather, even in July, could mean dangerous below-freezing conditions at the summit. So to optimize their chances of a successful attack, Aigars recommended, and all agreed, that the smart thing would be to take the ‘rest day’ in advance, and do the Grossglockner on Day 5 when the weather looked more promising. They all agreed that it was lucky they had an extra day to swap out!
On Day 5, under perfectly sunny skies, the group set out to tackle the Grossglockner. The 30-mile Grossglockner High Alpine Road, completed in 1935, is the highest paved road in Austria, with a total of 36 mind-blowing switchback turns. Riding from north to south, after about a 10-mile warm-up of flat to rolling terrain, the climbing began at the Ferleiten toll booth (free to bikes!). As clouds gathered and the temperatures began to fall, the riders worked their way upward. After 12 miles and about 5500 ft of climbing, they reached the summit: first Hochtor Pass at 8215 ft, then an optional additional mile of cobblestone pavement to the Edelweisspitzen viewpoint at 8435 ft.
The temperatures at the top were in the 40s with some wind and no sun. So no one wanted to linger! From there, one brave rider joined Aigars for a further scenic detour 6 miles out to the Kaiser Franz Josef Hohe Visitor Center and 6 miles back to the main road. Everyone in the group was pretty happy to have finished most of the climbing and settled in for a long and fun (if chilly at the top), descent of about 20 miles before pushing their legs to conquer one last 3.5-mile climb just 10 miles from their hotel in Lienz. They were rewarded with a descent bigger than the climb, and even more, with the knowledge they had conquered the Mighty Grossglockner!
Day 5 Route: distance: 60 or 72 miles; elevation: 8310 or 9440 ft
The riders continued into the Carinthia area of Austria, known for its mountains and lakes, on Day 6. It proved to be another tough day, coming immediately after the Grossglockner (rather than getting a day off in between!). The morning started from Lienz with a 3.5-mile double-digit percentage intense climbing beginning right out of the gate at mile 2.5! Most of the climbing was packed into the first half of the ride. Anticipating an 80-mile, 8000 ft day, some riders opted to be shuttled to the first, or even the second rest stop – just doing half of this day felt pretty tough!
The day was full of scenic beauty, from dramatic mountain ranges to pastoral scenes of farmers cutting and gathering hay by hand off the steep hillsides. The scenic back roads rolled up and down as they wove through tiny hamlets, little towns, and even a few small cities. The riders had some delays and ‘gravel fun’ in several construction areas, dodging potholes and large equipment. By mile 60 or so, the dramatic descending was over, and the dinner hour was approaching. It was hot and the thought of 20 more flat miles had lost its appeal, so the group saw the wisdom of jumping into the support van and shuttling the rest of the way to the town of Presseggersee and the Alpen Adria Hotel and Spa, a perfect fit for relaxation and recovery, AND an excellent dinner and breakfast!
Day 6 Route: distance: 81 miles (actual ride about 60); elevation 8215 (actual about 8000)
Unlike the previous several days, Day 7 began with some mild and tranquil riding on local bike paths and designated bike routes. The riders appreciated the slow warm-up and were excited to take on the Wurzenpass, summiting at Austria’s border with Slovenia as well as Slovenia’s most famous, Vrsic Pass and the Julian Alps. Both offered plenty of zings – Wurzenpass with 4.4 mi/7km averaging 8.1% (and an incredibly steep ramp at the beginning) and a brief but fun descent into Slovenia, followed quickly by Vrsic, known for its 50+ total switchbacks (and most on the uphill with cobbles) and an average 8.2% grade over 5.8 mi/9.25 km. To make it a bit more challenging, the temperature slowly crept up into the high 80’s (f)/30s (c). The Vrsic descent was fast and fantastic with many switchbacks and smooth pavement, joining the gorgeous emerald green Soca River and continuing into the Soca River Valley. A final café stop fueled the riders with caffeine, salt, and water for the last 10 or so hot, rolling miles alongside the Soca to the Hotel Boka, a really special hotel located right on the river just a few miles outside the fun tourist town of Bovec. Here the riders were treated to their first experience of traditional Slovenian food, sustainably prepared from local ingredients and served by the hotel owner. The day was completed with a walk down to the river’s edge.
Day 7 Route: distance: 59.2 miles, elevation 5840 ft
Day 8 gave the riders some options, with a two-night stay at the lovely Hotel Boka. Some rested and relaxed at the hotel all day, some got massages from HC Massage Therapist Ugis, and some got a ride into Bovec to explore shopping, restaurants, and the gondola ride up to the Kanin Ski Resort. Only two riders dared to join Aigars for the incredible Mangartsko Sedlo (saddle) climb. The Mangart Road takes riders up and over the Mangart Saddle, at elevation 6798 ft/2072 m, the highest paved road in Slovenia. Comparable to the Grossglockner from several days before, it offered about 16 mi/25km of continuous climbing (or descending!) with ramps up to 20%. Adding to the fun, the “out and back” road is one car lane wide with only occasional wider spots where two cars can pass. With many switchbacks and views of Slovenia to the south and Italy to the north from the summit, the Mangart road was a worthy challenge! After a busy day spent riding, playing, or recovering, the group gathered back at the Boka for another delicious meal and a good night’s sleep with the soft sounds of the Soca River in their ears.
Day 8 Route: distance: 31 mi, elevation 5740 ft
On Day 9 the group moved on, destination Lake Bled! Possibly the most-visited place in all of Slovenia, Lake Bled offers an island to visit, various water sports, castles, walking paths, and more serious hiking options. To get there, the group set out from the town of Bovec and headed generally east. The first half of the ride featured pleasantly rolling terrain through farms, small towns, and forested areas. At about mile 30, the day’s big 15-mile climb began. Mostly in the single digits, there were a few stretches with pitches of 10 to 13% to keep things from getting too boring! As they neared the summit, the sky began clouding up, and by the time all the riders had gotten some food and drink, it was ominously overcast with steel-grey storm clouds looming on the nearby peaks. The temperature dropped with the loss of sunshine, and the air even felt wet. The group gamely set off downhill, determined to hold off the rain for as long as possible! They made the terrific descent and were just beginning the last 15 miles of rolling terrain beside the Sava (river) Bohinjka. when the first tiny raindrops began to fall. They were about 7 miles out when the skies really opened and the riders and roads alike became waterlogged. With a fair amount of vehicular traffic, riding in the rain was not all that great, so the group decided to jump into the support van if only for safety’s sake.
Arriving at Lake Bled, they found a scene out of a fairy-tale book, complete with the castle on a bluff overlooking the lake. They even had time to get out and explore a bit on foot, though the skies continued to open up and dump buckets of rain on them intermittently. Another luxurious hotel, and another gourmet meal. Amazingly great!
Day 9 Route: distance: 64 mi (actually rode 57mi), elevation 6100 ft
On Day 10, the last ride day, the group awoke to brilliant sunny skies and a warm, humid day. They were sad to be leaving the charm and beauty of Lake Bled, excited to arrive in Ljubljana, and fully enjoyed the bittersweet last ride day! Traveling from Lake Bled, they started on a busier road with tourist traffic, but soon were rolling through the countryside on another great back road. They faced only one real climb of about 4 miles, starting in the town of Kropa, and were rewarded with another great descent into a valley carved by the Selska Sora (river). The final 15 or so miles of the ride were on a slight net downgrade, traveling with the river. The group enjoyed a final leisurely café stop in the charming old town of Skofja Loka. But the day was only getting warmer so they soon saddled up and got back on the road. Their approach into Ljubljana was not direct but circled the city for the most scenic ride and bike-friendly access to their downtown hotel. It was by then quite warm and just past noon. so they all enjoyed a great al fresco lunch at a café next door before checking into their hotel rooms, cleaning up, and either resting or getting out to explore the city a bit.
Dinner that night, for the final ‘banquet’, was something very special! The group walked/hiked up the hill to Ljubljana’s own Ljubljana Castle, a “contemporary castle behind ancient stone walls, on the green hill at the center of the city”. They enjoyed a foodie’s dream meal at the Castle Vineyard Restaurant, paired appropriately with fine wines and local beers! Conversations touched on the amazing challenges met on this trip, achievements won through grit and perseverance, and then focused on the favored topic of “Where to, next year??” With so many great places still to explore, so many options, the one thing they all agreed on was: two tours would be better than one!!!
Day 10 Route: distance: 43 mi, elevation 2700 ft
Day 11 started with one last leisurely breakfast at the hotel, but the pace accelerated with packing up, a flurry of fond farewells, and various drop-offs, and soon everyone was en route to their next destination. For some the adventures continued in Ljubljana, others moved on to further solo adventures and a few were bound directly for home. Another amazing trip was logged in all of their books!
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